Kalakshetra is celebrating “Remembering Rukmini Devi” this year from 20th February till 25th February.
Venue: Rukmini Arangam
Time: 6:30PM to 8:30PM
On the opening day, the dance drama “Meenakshi Vijayam” choreographed by Rukmini Devi Arundale will be presented. Talking about this production guru A. Janardhanan says
This two hour, 45 minute dance-drama was choreographed by Rukmini Devi in 1977, The production was very well received; Krishnaveni teacher was the queen, I was the (Pandya) king; even during the final performance — in 1992 — it held the audience spellbound.
The Hindu reports
Shijith Nambiar, who studied and taught at Kalakshetra, plays Shiva in Meenakshi Vijayam. He takes his place at the centre, while dancers gather around him, instructing each other, counting steps to position.
Back at the rehearsal, Meenakshi marries her lord. Janardhanan corrects postures, adjusts positions; Shiva and Meenakshi climb on stage. The vocalist sings ‘Shobanam, shobanam, shobanamey’ and the dancing begins.
Digging in the Internet about the dance drama “Meenakshi Vijayam” I found a detailed description. This is an account written by Natalie Savelyeva in her web journal, from the book written by S Sarada teacher of Kalakshetra of the same dance drama staged in 1977
When Rukmini Devi invited KC Thyagarajan to provide the music composition, he readily agreed and took the chosen songs from Mazhavapuri Subramanya Bharati’s Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam. When she started the dance composition she found that many of the music compositions had to be changed to suit the requirements of dance abhinaya. Thyagarajan graciously allowed us to change his compositions in order to give more scope for expressions of bhava, etc.
Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sarma modified some songs and changed the set music of some and composed ten songs. Seetherama Sarma provided the sollukattu swaras for the songs. As and when additions had to be made, or changes done, he composed many songs according to Rukmini Devi’s direction.
Regarding the Putrakamesti Yagna in the production
Much research from Sanskrit works in the Adyar Library was done to find the authentic actions, etc. V.H. Subramanya Sastri, Retired Principal of the Sanskrit College, Madras also gave suggestions and the mantras pertaining to this rite. This rite is described in varied ways in different sacred scriptures. After consultation Rukmini Devi decided not to use Sanskrit mantras, but to base the actions and movements on these original sources.
Lord Siva is seated aloft on a rock in Himalaya, behind a ga(u)ze curtain.
In the biography “Rukmini Devi Arundale, 1904-1986: A Visionary Architect of Indian Culture and Performing Arts” by Avanthi Meduri, she writes about this “gauze curtain”
The use of the gauze curtain (probably used by Rukmini Devi for the first time), which brought an ethereal vision of the mountains, made one feel like being in Kailasa itself.
S Sarada teacher recalls how certain scenes were choreographed from other sources
When we were selecting the material, there was only one verse in Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam in which Lord Siva says to Meenakshi that he will come to wed her at Madurai next Monday! Rukmini Devi was not satisfied with this. So I hurried to the Swaminatha Aiyer Library searched and found verses from Perumpatrapuliyur Nambi’s “Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam” and these were composed as songs.
The number of songs and the sources from which they were taken are:
- The verses and songs for this dance-drama were taken from “Tiruvilaiyadal Kirtanas” by Mazhavapuri Subramanya Bharati (22 songs and one verse set to thala).
- Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam by Paranjoti Munivar (18 verses – 10 set to music as song, 2 verses in raga and one verse spoken).
- A few verses were from Tiruvalavayudaiyur Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam by Perum Patrappuliyur Nambi (five verses set as songs),
- One verse from Meenakshi Ammai Pillaittamizh by Kumargurupara Swamigal (set as song),
- Tiruvachakam by Manikkavacakar (set as song),
- “Angaiyurkanni Ammai Kappu” from Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam by Arumuga Navalar,
- Tirukkutrala Ouranam by Kavi Tirikutarajappar (set as song),
- Tirmurai Kailai Padi Kalatti Padi Andadi by Nakiradeva Nayanar (set as song).
Music compositions: 10 songs were composed by K.C.Thyagarajan, 10 songs by Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sarma, 26 songs and 21 swaras and sollukattus and teermanam by Bhagavatulu Seetharama Sarma.
When it was staged for the first time in 1977,
Meenakshi’s role was taken by Shanta Devi at the premiere and later on by A.Geeta and Valli Subbiah. In the (5th) International Tamil Conference (1981) at Madurai, Geeta took the role of Meenakshi and it was well-received and applauded by the public.
The above account is also mentioned by another Kalakshetra alumni and former Principal Krishnaveni Lakshmanan in her interview to Sruti, where she recalls the problems faced during the restaging of the dance drama (in 1981?).
When Meenakshi Vijayam was composed, Shanta Devi was given the lead role. After the performance she left us before she could teach the part to anyone else. The next time we put up Meenakshi Vijayam, can you imagine the problems we had to face? There was nothing written down. We had to recollect as best as we could, learn bits here and there from those who had danced with her in the different scenes and collect material. After this herculean labour, Valli (Subbaiah) was taught the role and she made a success of it.
A must see festival for rasikas in Chennai!
S.Sarada “Kalakshetra-Rukmini Devi, reminiscences”, Kala Mandir Trust, Madras 1985
http://sruti.com/download/content2/Interview%20-%20Krishnaveni%20Lakshmanan%20%28Reproduced%20from%20Sruti%206%29.pdf (Krishnaveni Lakshmanan’s interview in Sruti Vol 6)